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KUOW's environment beat brings you stories on the ongoing cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, alternative energy, the health of the Puget Sound, coal transportation and more. We're also partnered with several stations across the Northwest to bring you environmental news via EarthFix.

Wild Fish Group Announces Plan To Sue Over Hatchery Fish In Puget Sound

Flickr Photo/Kitaro & Kawauso

Environmental groups are turning to the courts to block the placement of hatchery-reared fish in rivers where wild fish are struggling for survival.

The latest such case involves Washington state’s Wild Fish Conservancy. It filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife on Friday.

The group is zeroing in on hatchery programs that raise steelhead descended from a species native to Tacoma’s Chambers Creek. Putting these Chambers Creek steelhead in different waterways around the Puget Sound region is harming wild stocks of steelhead, Chinook salmon and bull trout, all of which are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, according to the Wild Fish Conservancy.

A growing body of research indicates that these hatchery fish are not only semi-domesticated and weaker than wild fish, they have also been shown to inter-breed with wild fish.

And when hatcheries release juvenile fish in large quantities into a river, the influx can overwhelm the wild juveniles that may be present.

“Because juvenile hatchery steelhead are far larger than their wild counterparts, they prey on the juveniles of listed salmonids, compete for food, and attract predators,” said Kurt Beardslee, executive director of the Wild Fish Conservancy.

The suit comes on the heels of other recent lawsuits calling for reforms in the use of hatcheries in the Northwest, as well as a recent victory for the Native Fish Society in its legal battle over the use of a hatchery on the Sandy River in Oregon.

That group accused the National Marine Fisheries Service and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife of violating the Endangered Species Act, just as Washington’s Wild Fish Conservancy is doing with the latest intent-to-sue court filing.

As wild stocks of salmon and steelhead continue to decline in the region, environmental groups are becoming more vocal as to the potential contribution of millions of hatchery-raised salmonids to the problem, calling for a philosophical shift in the way hatcheries are used.

Listen:EarthFix Conversation With Jim Lichatowich, author of "Salmon, People and Place: A Biologist’s Search For Salmon Recovery"

Proponents of fish hatcheries argue that planting fish in the rivers of the Northwest is key to ensuring a viable commercial fishing industry and counteracting the negative impacts of dams and other threats to salmon habitat.

Read: Waypoints Blog's previous coverage of urban gardening.